If your car is damaged in an accident — or you damage someone else’s car — insurance may cover the damage. Learn the steps to make a vehicle damage claim.

Understand your legal rights

Everyone who owns a motor vehicle in BC must have basic vehicle insurance from the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC), called Basic Autoplan.

The Basic Autoplan coverage includes third party liability coverage. This means if you are at fault for an accident that damages someone else’s vehicle, your insurance will pay that other person for their damage (up to the limit of your insurance).

You may also buy optional collision insurance from ICBC or a private insurance company. Collision insurance pays for damage to your vehicle — whether or not you were at fault — minus a deductible amount.

Your insurance may also pay if your parked vehicle is hit by an unknown driver.

When your vehicle is damaged, who pays for the repairs depends on who caused the accident and whether you have collision insurance.

If the accident wasn’t your fault, ICBC may pay the whole repair bill.

If you caused the accident, but you have collision insurance with ICBC, you’ll have to pay the deductible, and ICBC will pay the rest.

If you don’t have collision insurance and you caused the accident, you will have to pay to repair your own vehicle. And you will have to pay any towing and storage charges.

If you don’t have collision insurance and ICBC hasn’t decided whether you were at fault, you may have to pay the repair shop, then try to get ICBC to pay you back later, when it decides who caused the accident.

If your vehicle is wrecked, it’s called a write-off or a total loss. This means the cost of repairs is more than the current market value of your vehicle. You don’t have the choice to get it repaired.

ICBC will calculate the market value of your vehicle based on its condition before the accident. The value depends on several things, including your vehicle’s make, model, age, mileage, condition and options.

If your vehicle is a write-off and the other driver was at fault or you have collision coverage, ICBC will pay you the current market value of your vehicle. If you still owe money to a bank (or someone else), and they had registered a lien against your vehicle, ICBC will pay the bank what you owe them and then pay the rest to you.

Deal with the problem

Report an accident to ICBC as soon as you can. In the Lower Mainland, call ICBC’s Dial-A-Claim Centre at 604-520-8222. Elsewhere, call 1-800-910-4222. You can also report a claim online.

If you bought your collision insurance from a private insurance company, report your accident to them too.

If someone was injured in the accident or the damage is likely to be $2,000 or more, you must report the accident to the police.

Many vehicle damage claims are settled without going to an ICBC claim centre. If your claim qualifies, you can go directly to a c.a.r. VALET repair shop for a vehicle damage estimate, and get the repairs done at the same location. There are more than 400 c.a.r. bodyshops in BC. ICBC will tell you if your claim qualifies for this service when you report your claim.

Other times, Dial-A-Claim may give you an appointment to take it to the nearest ICBC claim centre, where an estimator will look at it. They fill in a form listing the repairs needed. Then you take your vehicle, with the estimator’s form, to a repair shop you choose.

If you can’t drive your vehicle after the accident and it has been towed to a storage lot, ICBC will have it towed directly to a claim centre. In the Greater Vancouver area, it may be towed to ICBC’s central estimating facility first, and then to a body shop for the repairs.

An ICBC adjuster will investigate the accident. They will make a decision about who caused it. Often, you may not actually meet the adjuster and, instead, may deal with them by phone.

ICBC will give you its decision about who is at fault for the accident. They may offer you money to settle or resolve your vehicle damage claim.

If you’re not happy with ICBC’s decision on fault or the amount they offer to settle your claim, you have options:

  1. Ask a manager to review your claim. You can ask a manager at the centre handling your claim to review your case.
  2. Apply for a “claims assessment review”. You can apply for a claims assessment review, known as a CAR. You have 60 days after ICBC tells you its decision to apply for a review.
  3. Appeal using ICBC’s internal appeal process. You can appeal ICBC’s decisions to deny your claim and its decisions on how much to offer you, who is at fault, and how to handle your claim.

If you’re still not satisfied, the Insurance (Vehicle) Regulation lets you use arbitration for your dispute. If you want to use arbitration, you must apply within two years after the loss or damage to your vehicle occurred. If you and ICBC can’t agree on the choice of an arbitrator, the ADR Institute of BC can appoint an arbitrator.

The arbitrator must promptly meet or communicate with both you and ICBC, gather relevant information, and set a date for a decision.

The arbitrator’s written decision with full reasons will be sent to you by registered mail. The costs of the arbitration are shared equally between you and ICBC.

If you remain unsatisfied with ICBC’s decisions, you can sue the other driver involved in the accident.

You may decide to sue for any deductible you had to pay on your collision coverage. Or, if you had no collision coverage, you may sue for the cost of your vehicle repairs or the write-off value of your vehicle.

Where you sue depends on much you sue for. The Civil Resolution Tribunal is for claims of $5,000 and less, Small Claims Court is for claims over $5,000 and up to $35,000. Supreme Court is for claims over $35,000.

Tip

For motor vehicle accidents taking place in BC after April 1, 2019, injury claims up to $50,000 must be brought to the Civil Resolution Tribunal. However, vehicle damage claims brought to the tribunal are capped at $5,000.

Common questions

If ICBC finds you were more than 25% at fault for an accident that results in a claim — by you or the other driver — ICBC will usually increase your insurance premium the next year. If you have another claim, the increase will be even greater.

If ICBC finds you at least 50% at fault in three crashes within three years, and they all result in claims, you’ll have to pay an additional multiple crash premium of $1,000. And for each additional at-fault crash within the three years, you’ll have to pay another $500.

If you cause a small accident, you can pay for any damage to your vehicle and the other vehicle yourself to avoid higher insurance premiums. But you should discuss this with the ICBC adjuster for your file, as the increase in your insurance cost may be small if you’re an ICBC Roadstar customer.

If you were drinking and driving or under the influence of drugs when you had your accident, or you’re convicted of a Criminal Code offence related to motor vehicles, you’ll have problems claiming insurance because you may have violated your insurance contract. If you’re charged with any criminal offence relating to a vehicle accident, you should consult a lawyer. See our information on impaired driving (no. 190).

If you have a complaint about how ICBC handles your claim, contact its customer relations department at 604-982-6210 in the Lower Mainland or toll-free 1-800-445-9981 elsewhere. A customer relations advisor will help you. If you still feel you haven’t been treated fairly, you can make use of ICBC’s fairness process.

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada

Reviewed in February 2019

Time to read: 6 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.

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On Dial-A-Law

Dial-A-Law has more information on Car Accidents in the section on Cars & Getting Around.